Polepally – Anti- SEZ Struggle మార్చి 20, 2009Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Congress, Economy, elections, livelihoods, Mahabubnagar, SEZ, Telangana, TRS.
A small Victory in a losing battle
Kuchi Venkat Lakshmana
They knew they would never win.
But 13 farmers from a group of small villages in Jadacherla, Mehboobnagar, about 96 kilometres south-west of the sparkling cyber capital of Hyderabad, decided they had to be heard.
So they sold precious cattle and scraped together funds to raise Rs 5,000 per head so they could register as Independents for an Assembly by-poll in May 2008.
There was only one thing on their agenda: They wanted to make a statement against a system that had handed over their farmland to a special economic zone and given them no land in exchange, leaving hundreds homeless and out of work.
As they toured village fairs and marketplaces across the district with their message, a strange thing happened.
Scraggly farmers began coming forward with crumpled notes in their fists.
“It wasn’t much… just a few rupees at a time. But it told us we were on the right track,” says Mala Jangilamma (50), a farmer and Independent candidate.
And they perhaps ruined the Telugu Desam Party’s chances too. The TDP candidate lost to Ravi Mallu of the Congress by just 2,000 votes.
“The people are sick of the same parties and the same failed promises. They wanted to make a statement too.”
When the results came in, even the farmers were surprised. Of course they hadn’t won, but together they had got 8,000 votes.
Seven of the 13 independent small and marginal farmers, including Mala Janglilamma (extreme left), who contested the Jadacherla assembly by-elections in May 2008 gather at a broken house in Polepally village.
Eight thousand people had walked into polling booths and voted for members of a group they had heard at a marketplace or village fair – with no lights, no banners, no freebies.
Jangilamma, whose symbol was a torch — “because I wanted to bring awareness and change to my hometown” — got the most votes: 1,250.
The thin, frail but extremely articulate woman still lost her deposit — as did the rest of the group — but they also rooted out incumbent Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) legislator C. Laxma Reddy.
Today, the special economic zone is still coming up on the 1,000 acres acquired from the villagers.
But the Congress-led state government has announced compensation of Rs 70,000 and a residential plot to each of the 320 farmers whose land was acquired.
And the determined bunch and their eight-year struggle are now on the political map.
Days after launching his Praja Rajyam party, superstar Chiranjeevi came all the way to Jangilamma’s Polepally village, asking for the group’s support.
“He had heard of us, and our problems,” she grins, while flipping channels on her small TV to keep abreast of the election news. “So many other parties have come along too since then, but we won’t be drawn in.”
The group plans to contest the Lok Sabha elections, on April 16. This time, 100 people have readied deposits to sign up as Independents.
Most, once again, are uneducated – some of them illiterate. But they plan to campaign jointly, with a single platform.
Their demands: That the government replace, sq metre for sq metre, the land lost to the SEZ. And compensation for the loss of farming over the last eight years.
“Their struggle is unique,” says Kodanda Ram, a political scientist and professor at Osmania University. “What they are battling is nothing but reverse zamindari by the government.”
Back in Polapally, Jangilamma has called another meeting of the Independents, to discuss strategy and campaigning.
Do they expect to win this time?
“No,” says Jangilamma. “We expect to make a difference.”
source: Hindustan Times, 15 March 2009 http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/india-yatra/2009/03/15/a-small-victory-in-a-losing-battle/